A recent BBC News video has highlighted a pair of co-working hubs in New York for the exclusive use of women.
With branches already open in the city’s Flatiron district and SoHo – and a Washington DC branch set to open this spring – hub brand The Wing explains on its website that its facilities honour the women’s club movement of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, which helped to drive a range of social campaigns by generating ideas and camaraderie. As such, The Wing’s premises are offices by day and women-only social clubs by night.
In conversation with the BBC, The Wing founder Audrey Gelman explains: “The world is a boys’ club. There have been men’s clubs and men-only spaces for centuries, and that’s where business deals get made and decisions are hatched. Women deserve spaces like that, too, and that’s what we’ve created here.”
Entrepreneur Atima Lui, who frequents The Wing’s spaces, adds that, when she launched her company, she often worked out of coffee shops – but even when she was clearly in head-down work mode, she was “hit on” by men and experienced “rampant harassment”. On that basis, she says, the hubs have provided her with a safe working environment, free of distractions.
According to the annual Global Co-working Survey, there were 510,000 members of shared hubs around the world in 2015, milling between 8,700 spaces. The following year, that rose to 835,000 members frequenting 11,300 spaces.
So it’s clear that these hubs are a growth industry. But if co-working hubs become more divided as their popularity builds – whether in terms of gender, sexuality, age or any other factors – will they only end up embodying some of the less appealing traits of the traditional workplace?
The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “There is, I think, a point of difference here. On one hand, we have the importance of inclusive, traditional work spaces and teams that recognise the contribution that everyone’s making towards achieving particular goals. These will operate under an umbrella ethos that diversity is good, and that we shouldn’t recruit in our own likenesses all the time. On the other, we have these hubs, which are essentially networks: locations where you go to meet like-minded people, find common interests, share ideas and make important connections.
“So there’s a distinction. These hubs are not the same thing as traditional workplaces in which people are excluded. If they help women to feel safer and more comfortable and, in the process, encourage them to make the most of their creativity, then that’s all very constructive. The members of these hubs aren’t saying that we should create workplaces like this. They’re saying, ‘Whenever I need to think, and to crunch through some work and to widen my professional network, this works for me.’”
Cooper adds: “That applies to people from any marginalised group. If they want to find a space in which they can share concerns, and come up with strategies for dealing with what they consider to be the most significant issues that are facing them, then once again, that is not the same as a single-interest-group workplace.”
For further thoughts and insights on how to build networks, check out these learning resources from the Institute